« Interesting account of guidelines accounting facing former NOLA mayor at upcoming federal sentencing | Main | Making a spiritual case for abolishing the death penalty »

July 7, 2014

"Do Residency Bans Drive Sex Offenders Underground?"

The very important question in the title of this post is the headline of this discussion (with lots of links) by Steven Yoder at The Crime Report. Here is an excerpt:

California hasn’t been alone in its tough approach to ensuring that formerly incarcerated sex offenders pose no danger after they are released. As part of a wave of new sex offender laws starting in the mid-1990s, about 30 states and thousands of cities and towns passed such residency restrictions — prompting in turn a pushback from civil liberties advocates, state legislators and registrants themselves who argued the restrictions were not only unduly harsh but counterproductive.

But a court decision in Colorado last year could mark a shift in momentum. In the Colorado case, Stephen Ryals, a high school soccer coach convicted in 2001 for a consensual sexual relationship with a 17-year-old student, was sentenced to seven years’ probation and put on the state sex offender registry.   Eleven years later, in 2012, he and his wife bought a house in the city of Englewood. But the police department told him he couldn’t live there because of a city ordinance prohibiting sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of schools, parks and playgrounds — a law that effectively made 99 percent of its homes and rentals off limits to offenders. Englewood police also warned offenders that even in the open one percent, if they contacted a homeowner whose property wasn’t for rent or for sale, they could be charged with trespassing.

Ryals sued, and last August a federal court concluded that the city’s ban went too far. The judge ruled that it conflicted with the state’s existing system for managing and reintegrating sex offenders and could encourage other towns and cities to do the same, effectively barring offenders from the entire state. Englewood has appealed, but two of the state’s five other cities that have residence bans have softened their restrictions since the decision....

In California, scores of cities are rolling back their restrictions after an Orange County court ruled last April in favor of registrant Hugo Godinez, who challenged the county over its ordinance barring sex offenders from entering parks.  Godinez, convicted for a misdemeanor sex offense in 2010, was arrested the following year for what he said was mandatory attendance at a company picnic in a county park.  In that case too, a state appeals court decided that the county’s ordinance usurped the state’s authority.  The appeals court ruling was upheld by the state’s highest court.

Since the Godinez decision, 28 California cities that have similar “presence” restrictions, which ban offenders from entering places like libraries and parks, have repealed those rules.  Another 24 say they are revising their ordinances, according to Janice Bellucci, a California attorney.

Since the April decision, Bellucci, who represents the advocacy group California Reform Sex Offender Laws, has sent letters demanding repeal to cities with presence restrictions. She also has sued a dozen other cities that haven’t changed their rules since the decision.

And this year, California’s Supreme Court could make an even bigger ruling — whether to toss the state’s 2,000-foot law itself.  A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge found it unconstitutional in 2010, but the city appealed.  The judge cited an increase in homelessness among registrants as a key reason.  Statewide, the number of homeless registrants has doubled since the law passed in 2006, according to the 2011 Sex Offender Management Board report.

At least two other states — Rhode Island and New York — have been sued since 2012 over their own residency laws.

One finding in the Ryals’ case in Colorado case could resonate in other states. The judge found compelling a 2009 white paper by Colorado’s Sex Offender Management Board concluding that residency bans don’t lower recidivism and could actually increase the risk to the public. According to the paper, that’s because they drive offenders underground or toward homelessness, making them harder for police and probation officers to track....

Those 2009 findings led the Colorado board to go further in a report this January, which recommended that state lawmakers consider legislation prohibiting cities and towns from enacting their own offender residency rules.

Two other states have moved in that direction. The Kansas legislature banned local residency restrictions in 2010.  And in New Hampshire, the state House of Representatives has twice approved a bill that would bar local ordinances, though it’s died both times in the state Senate.  Bellucci argues that there’s more to come in other states.  The “pendulum of punishment,” she claims, is starting to swing the other way.

“For a long time, ever-harsher sex offender laws were being passed and there was no one opposing them,” she told The Crime Report. “After more than a few lawsuits, elected officials are realizing that there’s a downside to this.”

July 7, 2014 at 02:38 PM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference "Do Residency Bans Drive Sex Offenders Underground?":


What happens if former sex offenders start clashing with police who attempt to arrest them for either accidentally or deliberately disobeying these draconian laws? What happens if these laws cause some former sex offenders to go off the deap end and start obtaining illegal firearms for the purpose of resisting arrest or worse?

Posted by: william r. delzell | Jul 7, 2014 5:16:20 PM


I might add that these residential restriction laws along with registration and civil commitment laws can actually endanger the public safety in general and law enforcement personnels' safety in particular. Such excessive post-conviction laws actually provoke several sex offenders into deciding they have nothing to lose and possibly everything to gain by targeting police, parole officers, prosecutors, judges, and so-called victims' rights politiations for revenge killings or assault. Without these provocative laws, most sex offenders would otherwise not be predisposed to targeting law enforcement.

We have had incidents in the last year or so in scattered locations of the country where sex offenders in Santa Cruz, California, for instance, killed two police officers in a town that never had a cop-killing for decades. In Florida and Mississippi, we have had similar killings. In Minnesota, one sex offender acted out during either a trial or civil commitment hearing by shooting at a judge.

Laws that require former sex offenders to turn off their outside lights during Halloween could cause some sex offenders to mistake a police officer for a burglar or a vigilante. In such circumstances, some sex offenders might have an illegal fire arm for the purpose of "standing their ground" to defend their property. Some states like Iowa even allow certain sex offenders to buy and possess firearms if they can prove they need these weapons for self defense.

If we really care about the welfare about our police officers and other first responders, we will repeal these stupid and counter-productive laws. They don't protect children. They merely drive former offenders underground and nurture in them a desire to seek revenge against these laws.

Posted by: william r. delzell | Jul 7, 2014 5:56:47 PM

This is a timely article. Janice Bellucci will be attending the National Reform Sex Offender Laws convention in Dallas from the 16th to the 18th of this month. She will be conducting several seminars with regard to California laws and the organization's fantastic success at court litigation (all wins, no losses), as well as getting communities to repeal (or successfully prevent) residency and proximity restriction laws in dozens of cities and municipalities.

Of interest to readers of this column, she will be conducting three different classes on how lawyers can successfully challenge these laws in other states, with particular emphasis on identifying both federal and state constitutional amendments and how ordinances routinely ignore them.

I would highly recommend that any would-be litigant, as well as prosecutors and other state attorneys, to attend the convention. In my opinion, it is just as important to get state and municipal attorneys to understand the implications of such laws, especially as they apply to both implementation futility, as well as expensive (HINT: average 6-figure cost) defense of such laws. Preventing this tomfoolery in the first place is the first step towards providing more sensible policies with regard to community sex offender issues.

Janice Bellucci is, by far, the most successful litigant with regard to federal litigation to sex offender laws. I don't solicit anyone's attendance at the convention in deference to blog etiquette, but if anyone wants more information I can provide it privately, or with this site's permission list the contact details here.

Posted by: Eric Knight | Jul 7, 2014 6:52:25 PM

I'm continually seeing more and more news articles concerning registrants that have just had enough and are removing their GPS tracking units or not registering and just disappearing into the woodwork in various communities across the state. It's a joke because law enforcement just doesn't have the manpower or financial resources to track down all these POWs and MIAs of the mindless registries that are being maintained.

Posted by: Yonder | Jul 7, 2014 7:13:49 PM


Promises, promises. One of the greater ironies of modern sex offender contretemps is that sex offenders--as a general matter--are the least violent of today's criminals. Yes, there is always the sensational rape and kidnapping of some child to rivet the nation's attention but mostly they are non-violent in the traditional sense. Touching a child genitals, peeing in the wrong public place, or looking at some naughty picture doesn't require any violence in the traditional notion of the term. So I always find it bemusing when people claim that sex offenders can only take so much and then they will snap and go off the rails shooting people up. Not likely. That is exactly what makes them so appealing as a minority to prosecute--they are not likely to fight back.

Posted by: Daniel | Jul 7, 2014 7:18:32 PM

RE; Daniel.

Perhaps, but we used to say that about gays before the Stonewall Riots of 1969 and we also said that blacks were too humble to fight back until 1965 when the lid blew off at Watts. Obviously, I can't predict one way or the other, but history and fate have a way of fooling us all.

Posted by: william r. delzell | Jul 7, 2014 8:04:11 PM

On the JonathanTurleyblog there was a recent article about a city in the State of Washington which tried to zone out or deny business license to a pot shop. There is a fight going on about this. I hope the anti pot shop people win. But to deny a person who has done his time the right to live on a residential street is a bit beyond the Pale. By the Pale I mean The Paletinate. It is something that might occur in Morocco but should not happen in America.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Jul 7, 2014 8:52:34 PM

There are supposed to be Constitutional liberty loving, but cowardly, money (aka litigation) grubbing sob lawyers on this site. The title of this post should not be:

"Do Residency Bans Drive Sex-Offenders Underground?" but rather;

"Do Residency Restrictions Violate Ex-Post Facto and Bill of Attainder Constitutional Limits?"

That you can make the SAME action(s) or inaction(s) criminal for one part of the population (supposedly after serving all government fines and punishments imposed by a Court of Law) and not for the entire population at large strikes me as the heart of bigotry, Jim Crow and a violation of human rights (versus Civil Rights - However they are loosely defined). I won't even bring up voting and firearms restrictions as these are already lost causes.

Posted by: albeed | Jul 7, 2014 9:17:32 PM

Laws that do not have scientific evidence to support their safety and effectiveness tested ahead of time in small jurisdictions should be void. The violate Fifth Amendment Due Process. Garbage science should carry tort liability by the legislature, from the personal assets of the members, not from the taxpayer. To deter.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 7, 2014 11:51:47 PM

The incidence of child sexual abuse is steadily rising under the leadership of the lawyer traitor filth, the rent seeking worthless government make work parasite. The reports of it may be decreasing because of the lying of lawyers to cover up their utter failure to protect our kids. Get rid of this worthless dumbass from all policy positions. It happens to 10% of kids, and is more frequent than the rape of adults. A large fraction of child molesters have dozens of victims. Far from traumatic, many kids like it and victimize other kids. These criminals are then protected by the lawyer traitor. They will not even allow any real punishment or even verbal criticism.

In bringing back the lash, start with judges and legislators protecting the mass child rapists, and passing worthless residency requirements for the appearance of piety, and to generate government paper work.

They will go after harmless downloaders as easy targets, the lazy, worthless dumbasses, while rapists troll our streets and rape dozens if not hundreds of kids.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 8, 2014 2:30:21 AM

The answer, unquestionably, is yes. Residency restrictions represent a tremendous burden on any registrant who is trying to reintegrate into society, inflate the false sense of security that the registry provides, and ultimately may wind up helping to create the very problem they were imposed to solve.

As I know at least some here know, I'm a sex offender. In 2007 I was convicted of possessing child porn and was placed on the registry. Most of my life I had lived with my parents -- arguably that, and as the article indicates, was a stable environment. Unfortunately, that home was near a park and a school, so I had to leave the only home I'd known.

I spent that first time living in a motel on the edge of town until we located a vacant apartment in an "allowed" zone. Then we went through a few different landlords and other apartments until we found one who agreed to rent to me. I still live there now, some years later -- and am grateful to have a roof over my head as I know many people on the registry do not.

All this would be well and good if residency restrictions provided society with some sort of a benefit (more than just feel-good-sense-of-secutiy type stuff). The problem is, they don't, and they don't for several reasons.

Firstly, they don't mean that sex offenders can't be around kids. The fantasy in state legislatures is that they can keep sex offenders segregated from children, or at least that it wards off the mental image of a sex offender living across the street from an elementary school. It's based on an embarrasingly ill-informed conception of how sex offending occurs (i.e., that sex offenses occur based on physical proximity to children). Not only that, but the fact is, children are everywhere.

I live in a "safe" zone, right? All of my neighbors in my apartment building have kids. I have to step over and around tricycles, playing blocks, etc, on my way to work in the morning. Assuming (which the law does automatically) that I or anyone on the registry were hell-bent on molesting children, all residency restrictions do is externalize and push that risk onto another group of families -- likely poorer and less educated families, and thereby more at risk anyway.

But let's pretend for a moment that there are no children in any of these zones. So what? Research demonstrates that sex offenders who do reoffend (the small minority of those who do) do so away from where they live. Where you lay your head at night, it seems, has no bearing on where you can commit crimes during the day.

So if my hypothesis is correct, and that residency restrictions provide no obvious benefit, what, then, is the cost?

The OP makes out a pretty decent case. Say I hadn't been able to locate a landlord who would rent to me? What would my options be? I can't live in a motel my whole life. Either homelessness or going off the grid -- neither of which would benefit me in reintegration into society.

Furthermore, I'm subject at any moment to being ejected from where I live and starting the process all over again. If a park or daycare opens near where I live, my state law says that I will be presumed to know and will have 90 days to move or else have committed a criminal offense. I, of course, have no way of knowing if there's a park or playground or daycare that opens near where I live. Am I expected to cruise around my neighborhood looking for new parks or playgrounds or daycares? That ought to go over swimmingly.

So here we have a law that has no obvious benefit aside from perhaps making parents feel safer (at least, the parents who don't live in the exclusion zones). And there is a tremendous cost to it, certainly from my perspective. The prospect of homelessness when you're on the registry is very real and very stressful. Given that stable housing is strongly correlated with staying offense-free, it seems we -- as a society -- are perpetually cutting off our nose to spite our face. We say we want fewer victims, but act in ways that create more, and more kinds of victims.

Don't mistake anything that I've said for minimizing my actions or those of others on the registry. I believe punishment is a necessity, and I served my sentence gladly. This, however, is not supposed to be punishment, yet it feels much more onerous than my criminal sentence.

If we (the collective we) are interested in more than paying lip service to the idea of public safety and prevention of sexual violence, we owe it to ourselves to start asking some difficult questions about sex offender policy.

Posted by: Guy | Jul 8, 2014 8:58:49 AM

"Touching a child genitals, peeing in the wrong public place, or looking at some naughty picture doesn't require any violence in the traditional notion of the term. So I always find it bemusing when people claim that sex offenders can only take so much and then they will snap and go off the rails shooting people up."

Unwanted touching is a form of "battery" and likely "assault" too, so yes, touching the genitals of those who don't have the legal and likely actual ability to truly consent is a form of "violence" unless that term is used narrowly.

Anyway, who are these "people" you speak of? The concern -- misguided it might be or counterproductive for public safety and child well being it might be -- appears to be that they will molest children or the like. I might be wrong, but I don't think people fear child molesters are going to shoot up the playground. Though they might think they will kidnap a kid or something.

Posted by: Joe | Jul 8, 2014 11:11:23 AM


Yes, I use the term narrowly because that is how it was traditionally used. The Founders would have found the idea of unwanted touching laughable. Now, there were some Founders who approved of slavery too so the mere fact that the Founders approved does not make it morally correct. It does, however, go to show that what constitutes "violence" is not something which is intuitively or instinctively obvious and upon which all men and women at all times have agreed upon. Our current law does say that unwanted touching is a crime of violence. The law is an ass.

As for your second point, it would be helpful if you actually read the entire thread. My comment was a specific reply to a specific poster and if you read it in context my comments would actually make sense and you wouldn't have to ask question whose answers are in front of your face.

Posted by: Daniel | Jul 8, 2014 1:01:26 PM

These residential restrictions might cause a more hot-headed offender to lash out not only at police, but at the landlord who helps the police evict this particular tenant. Such a tenant in a desperate situation might feel nothing to lose by ransacking the landlord's rental domicile, flooding it, setting it ablaze, stealing furniture if it's a furnished apartment, or ripping fixtures from the place to sell on the black market. Other people facing eviction for other offences like failure to pay rent, etc., especially in these deparate economic times, have been known to display such anti-social behavior toward private property.

Who is to assume that a rso would never do this out of spite over residential restriction laws? Just as they might attempt to booby trap their domicile to target police, they might attempt to seek revenge against a landlord who aids and abets the police in enforcing the residential restriction laws.

Posted by: william r. delzell | Jul 8, 2014 6:02:18 PM

@ Daniel

Not likely. That is exactly what makes them so appealing as a minority to prosecute--they are not likely to fight back.

Your statement above is not correct my friend. There are several RSO's around the U.S. who are fighting back. Who do you think are the ones fighting back in court? And yes, who are the ones fighting back at the police and those who seek to harm the RSO and/or his family.

The RSO community is tired of these unlawful laws. Fighting back is going to grow more and more. The bold truth of the matter is that like a dog backed into a corner, they not only will fight back, but will leave quite a bite mark when they are done.

Posted by: Book38 | Jul 8, 2014 8:20:01 PM

While I do believe that sex offenders should be punished and closely watched, there is a point where these laws are crossing into these peoples rights as citizens. I don't understand why we prohibit these people from going to public places, it's like saying they have to stay in their homes. They already did jail time for their crimes, why lock them up in society too?

Posted by: Andrew Klein | Jul 9, 2014 1:33:17 PM

Supremacy Clause guy: You must not be catholic. Otherwise you would have included the pedophile priests along with the lawyers. Can all kid porkers be given the death penalty regardless of their other occupations? I think yes. Then there is corporal punishment, irregardless of rank. Cut of the parts of the body which inflict the pain on others. Ya know what I mean jelly bean.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Jul 9, 2014 6:32:36 PM

Lib: Child rape is a violent crime, and I do not mean, because children are not able to consent, but because physical coercion is used. Certainly everyone over 14 may consent. Some children like what happens and do it to others.

I have that covered under 123D. Cooey should have been executed before age 18, so that Little Jessica would not be taken from her bed, kept in a closet for his use for a week, then buried alive because he was too cowardly to kill her with his hands. The lawyer protected him. The agent of the prosecutor visited him, and left uhim lone instead of searching his place to find Jessica alive in his closet a few feet from her trailer. The deceased have a low recidivism rate, even with the idiocy of the police. What are the odds of a known serial child rapist living within feet of her bedroom and she dispappears, and he is not the cause? What odds would describe this coincidence 1 in a million, 1 in a trillion? What dumbass lawyer could fail to see that?

After the hierarchy of the lawyer porfession is eradicated for its insurrection against the constitution, all the violent criminals are executed, and the nearly crime-free environment is maintained by 10,000 executions yearly, forever. That is half the murder rate.

You have cast your lot with the ultra-violent predator as a sign of your false piety, and have condemned 15,000 murder victims and 5 milion victims of violent crime to their destinies. Why does this bias and indifference not disturb you? Racism. Victims are predominantly black.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 10, 2014 5:08:52 PM

Liberty1st "kid porkers"? I'm a RSO, (inappropriate touching), and even as a RSO, I find that term offensive and uneducated. Child rapist, certainly. Deserving of the death penalty? Perhaps - that's for juries to recommend and for judges to decide.
The conviction rate for SO's must be at or near 100%: I have no sources to quote, and even if I did, I wouldn't argue them here or anywhere else. There's always someone who is willing to argue about the validity of the statistic or source. Of this I do know; residency restrictions force sex offenders underground, as does public registries and public notifications. In Oklahoma, where the residency restriction is 2,000 ft from any church, school, or daycare, 15% of SO's have gone underground. Over 95% of Oklahoma and Tulsa counties is unavailable for sex offenders to purchase or rent a residency.

Posted by: Oswaldo | Jul 12, 2014 9:54:09 AM

Related topic to the blogger, can you please mention about the case in Virginia that is drawing national headlines about sexting and a warrant to photograph his genitals and forced erections (note they already photographed his genitals something news headlines omit and they wanted to video tape an erection), how is this legal in America, the fact that the warrant was issued signals are broken criminal justice system.

Posted by: Alex | Jul 17, 2014 4:19:41 AM

Book38 | Jul 8, 2014 8:20:01 PM: You are exactly right. Families that are listed on the nanny big government Sex Offender Registries are fighting back. And many of them are doing it violently. We know that children have been murdered specifically in retaliation for "residency restrictions" and many more just in general retaliation for the SORs. Six year old Christopher Barrios was one who was murdered in retaliation for "residency restrictions". Daniel (who posted here at Jul 7, 2014 7:18:32 PM) doesn't seem to be particularly concerned about a "small" number being murdered; I wonder how many murders it will take before he thinks it is a relevant issue. I am pretty sure that Christopher's family thinks one murder is too many. They probably don't believe if the SORs murder one child, it's worth it.

I personally think a very large percentage - over 80% - of listed people are fighting back to some degree. Most of them are doing it anonymously. They aren't personally notifying Daniel. I know a number of people personally who are just waiting to be arrested for some idiotic "Failure to Register" BS and I am confident that those people will retaliate in spades. I am confident that some will murder people. It is scary and it has decreased public safety.

The harassers/terrorists who support the SORs have never been able to justify how they have failed to create the rest of their Registries. Perhaps one of their excuses/lies should be related to what Daniel said. They can say that they can only Register people who they think they can harass and will not fight back. They are afraid of anyone else. They have not been able to come up with any other excuses so they could use that.

Posted by: FRegistryTerrorists | Jul 17, 2014 10:15:35 AM

Of course "residency bans" cause Registered people to go "underground". Could the data be much clearer about it? Is anyone seriously debating it? Doesn't seem like it.

Also, "underground" should also include people who are legally Registered but live anonymously and ensure the Registries are useless. Those people might as well not be Registered, it has the same effect.

And BTW, anyone who lives in a decently large city can be Registered but still "underground". It is trivial. So a good 90% of Registered people can be legally Registered but still live so the "public safety" effects are the same as if they were not. The Registries are an idiotic panacea and informed people have known that for years.

Posted by: FRegistryTerrorists | Jul 17, 2014 10:19:25 AM

There is an unintended consequence to having an extremely punitive sex offender registry and that is most offenses are committed by family members and those know to the victim. By the registry being punitive against families and not just to individuals doesn't it seem logical that victims will not report abuses in order to protect their family as a whole? So, the punitive nature of the registry by default becomes it's own worst enemy.

Posted by: Robert Curtis | Jul 31, 2014 3:30:55 AM

The punishment of the family members by the registry and residency restrictions are obvious and well known but the harassment of the spouses and adults who live with the sex offender have never been mentioned that I have ever read or heard. The only thing that I have not suffered that my SO husband has is a plethysmograph, but I have certainly suffered the hardship of having to do without decent food because we have to pay hundreds of dollars to have my husband plethysmographed and polygraphed every few months. Our household would be solvent if not for the huge treatment costs. We eat from food banks at this time in order to comply with all of the 'treatment' demands.

Someone finally touched upon the mostly ignored fact that the sex offender laws themselves are making many times the victims that the sex offenders do. The laws punish entire families to close to the degree that they punish the sex offender. I have to live with the fear of retaliation from the community who knows where we live. The stress of having my home invaded by his probation officer for so-called "home visits",which are ill disguised warrantless searches, is mine to bear. My husband in unable to get a job even though he has submitted hundreds of apps and gone on dozens of interviews (due to his SO status). I am disallowed from celebrating the holidays with the rest of society because the sex offender management board says the decorations may attract children to my door. The exorbitant cost of the out of pocket payment of ineffective sex offender therapy means my husband and I have to commit all of our resources to the court ordered treatment and neglect my physical, emotional, and mental health needs. I have appealed many times to his therapist to lower the amount he charges my husband so that we do not face financial ruin and I can get the medical care I need. His response was to label me "resistant" and raise the amount he charges us. The therapist also informed the probation officer who then began harassing me with threats of more frequent home visits and splitting up my home and having me jailed because "he is concerned about my husband's at-risk adult status". My husband has several mental health diagnoses so they can split up my home if my house is untidy when they come for a "home visit".

The worst of the financial hardships fall to the children of the sex offender who still need the father to support them even if he cannot live in the home with them.Can anyone on this blog tell me that this is not large scale victimization of families? Far more victimization of children is done by the government, probation and treatment than the sex offenders.

And we owe it all to the political glory hounds playing on fears to win votes.

Posted by: Lisa S. | Oct 28, 2014 4:55:31 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB